There are certain things that should make us sit up and take notice, no matter what the circumstances.
One of them would be our government telling citizens they cannot protest.
If you accept that without questioning, pull your nicest wool sweater over your head, because you are a sheep.
Many of us are distant observers of the standoff at Standing Rock. We’re not emotionally invested, we understand both the need for affordable domestic fuel and the need to protect the environment.
We understand that buried fuel lines are nothing new and shocking. We also know that any line built can leak.
We harbor no ill will for pipeline workers who are simply trying to do their blue-collar jobs, or for tribal members concerned about cultural resources and water supplies near their homes.
Most of us aren’t given to waving protest signs, chanting, and going to jail to hold up backhoes. We watch the news with an attempt at open minds, we hope that cooler heads can prevail before people get hurt or killed on both sides here.
We’re reasonable people, who instinctively look for compromise rather than conflict. Wide-eyed revolutionaries, we are not.
We don’t have to be protestors, though - or even to agree with those who are protesting - to understand that speaking out is a critical element of American rights.
I would suggest that an attempt at silencing people would be an even bigger issue than a pipeline itself.
In a letter Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers warned the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation that it will shut down the area north of the Cannonball River, including the Oceti Sakowin camp where protesters have gathered for months, and a so-called “free speech zone.”
We are told that the decision is being made to “protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement” (or because the Corps stands to lose cash on grazing deals, depending on who you listen to).
Indeed, there was violence last Sunday. News reports say an officer was hit with a stone by one person, out of 3,000 or so taking part in the protest. The sheriff termed it, “a riot.” We hope that person was arrested and prosecuted, as they should be. There is no place for violence or vandalism amid a peaceful protest.
But most, we’re told by observers who were there, were doing nothing more dangerous than praying or singing when authorities opened fire with fire hoses, tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion explosives. An unarmed woman was reportedly shot in the back and nearly lost an arm (the authorities denied using such weapons and claimed the protesters must have done it themselves).
Many suffered hypothermia after being targeted with fire hoses in frigid temperatures. If fires were set, they were bonfires to try to warm those who were left wet and freezing.
Have we really come to this? Throwing rocks or freezing each other with water hoses? A chaotic battlefield scene right in the mid-American heartland?
We could use those cooler heads, right now.
I can’t second-guess law enforcement decisions, because I wasn’t there. Can’t speculate if the actions were taken to protect, or to silence. We don’t know.
One thing is clear - tension is taking a toll on both sides. One firebrand making one bad decision on either side could ignite a Kent State-type tragedy here. So it is not entirely surprising to see the government step in.
If the natives do not depart, mass arrests and more conflict is likely, and that serves no one’s purpose. No one wants to see blood shed, people.
I’m curious, however, why the Corps of Engineers is intent on destroying the protest camp, rather than, say, establishing a zone where peaceful protest could take place a safe distance from officers and construction area, and giving fair notice that those straying further would be arrested for their own safety.
I’m curious too why President Obama has done nothing to try to see the situation diffused and safely negotiated.
I’m curious why the major media is reporting all this from afar and only quite superficially, mostly reprinting statements they haven’t vetted.
I’m curious too, as we are assured that this project is so very proper, researched and no-risk, why we’re hearing reports that the pipeline company is trying to bribe the Sioux with offers including a ranch, vehicles, and unspecified improvements to their reservation - if they presumably go away quietly.
If I were a suspicious type, I would say it almost seems like there is something the authorities are trying hard to prevent us from seeing, hearing, or thinking.
I notice too that the Corps seems very firm about federal policy being followed - at least firm if you are a Sioux. Abandon your camp by December 5 or be arrested for trespassing, no ifs, ands or buts.
The same firmness doesn’t seem to apply for wealthy oil corporations.
In September the Obama administration temporarily blocked the construction from crossing the Missouri River at the site, saying the Corps is considering an alternative route.
But the chief executive of the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, told the press the company won’t consider any alternative route.
Interesting. If you have enough money, you get to “consider” whether or not you want to follow federal policy. You get to rip through people’s land against their will. And you apparently get the right to turn local police and sheriff’s departments into your own private security force, even if it means injuring local people they are paid to protect.
Many months ago, when this project refused to re-route to avoid ancient burial grounds that Native Americans were concerned about, we suggested that this pipeline has had the stink of bad juju on it from the beginning.
Camp or no camp, construction delayed or finished, I’m afraid we haven’t smelled the last of it yet.